Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-76 for the second time. While previously I spoke on the total content of the act, today I wish to speak to part V of the act and particularly on social transfer and social programs.
While I understand the concept behind the change of payment of social services to the provinces and the need for taking some drastic steps, I am concerned about the application of the funds.
We all know the importance of social programs and the high rate of acceptance by Canadians for such programs, amounting to over 70 per cent of our population.
The legislation for the Canada assistance plan was passed in 1996, but since then over 14 million people either were born in Canada or came as immigrants. Provinces in the meantime have become more progressive and have asked for more autonomy. The new legislation will offer greater flexibility to the provinces to deal with the distribution of social programs.
All this would be fine if the government did not have to cut payments to the provinces. These cuts are necessary to deal with the debt and the deficit. If payments were to continue on the same basis as in the past, they would soon have to be phased out altogether.
Although these are sensible decisions, we cannot forget those who will suffer most as a result of these cuts. When Canadian taxpayers asked us not to raise taxes, I often explained this would mean cutting services and programs, which would not help the poor and those who need social assistance.
Being on welfare has become a stigma. Society has a tendency to label people without taking into consideration that life is not treating everybody in the same manner. We know that as long as there are rich there will be poor, but it is up to the rest of society to make sure the needy are treated fairly. People on welfare are very vulnerable and have to struggle to keep afloat.
Too many people are poor in Canada. One child out of five lives under the poverty line and where there are poor children there are poor parents. Statistics do not mean much. They are just numbers and behind them there are real people. Every percentage point means several human beings, each one of them with rights and privileges like everybody else.
In my riding many of the children in the inner schools eat only one meal a day provided by the school board. They wear clothes donated to them and never want to go home because they do not have a home, they have a house, often empty, where there is no warmth or affection. Often children look for affection elsewhere with the consequences we all know.
Last week the Minister of Health was in an inner school of my riding to announce the head start program for aboriginal families. The children in the school, many aboriginal, gave the minister a great welcome. She spoke to the children. She spent time with them and this, for the children who spoke to the minister, was probably the highlight of their school year and was a great shot in the arm for the parents who were present and for the teachers and the principal who live with all the difficulties day in and day out.
Some say God made mothers because he could not be everywhere. Long ago I added to the word mother, intended for parent, the word teacher because of the hard work many of them do with many of our children, especially with those who need it the most.
These children are not mere numbers. They are individuals, our men and women of tomorrow. What an opportunity we miss. They could be the professionals and the tradesmen of tomorrow and a lot of potential is going to waste because of the lack of resources they are faced with. These children represent one-fifth of the population of tomorrow.
The other day I visited skid row in Vancouver. In one of the hotels I met a young aboriginal man, and we had a conversation. This young man, who is very intelligent, had finished high school, went to college for two years and to university for three, and had lived a decent life until he started using drugs. What a shame and what a waste.
There was also a very young woman who was coming out of the hotel. She was too young and too vulnerable to be going to a hotel on skid row. What a shame and what a waste.
This misery can be found all over the world, but in Canada we should not allow it to happen. CAP exists to try to give some dignity to people who would otherwise live in sheer poverty.
My concern about the new system is the loss of the five rights which up to now have been imposed on CAP: the right to income when in need; the right to an amount of income that takes into account budgetary requirements; the right to appeal; the right not to have to work or train for welfare; and the right to income assistance regardless of the province you are from.
Part V of Bill C-76 only maintains the fifth right requiring that "no period of minimum residency be required or allowed with respect to social assistance". Maintaining only this right is not enough. Each province could go in a different direction and deny welfare for other reasons. This would increase poverty and crime and would put even more people on the street. If a province denies individuals welfare, it is possible to move to another province, but if all the provinces do the same, where would people go for help? South of the border?
Poverty is everywhere. Last week, my opposition colleague said that in a separate Quebec, there would be no more poverty, but I think we will have to think very seriously about all of us working together, if we want to reduce poverty and improve the circumstances of so many Canadians. I believe that united we stand and that together we can get the best results.
I know that the bill provides for consultations with the provinces to reach mutual agreement on social programs. But I also believe that if we maintain the five principles of the welfare program at the federal level, we can at least have a discussion based on these principles.
The House finance committee in its recent report has backed the right of appeal. This is a very sound decision and an important recommendation. I would like, as would many other people, to see this recommendation implemented and the remaining rights maintained.
Let me go back to my riding where there is the only emergency day care in the city of Vancouver. The greatest majority of children in day care have drug related and alcohol related syndrome. The reason: poverty. In my riding, there is the food bank where tons and tons of food are distributed on a regular basis to hundreds of people. The food bank is not alone in offering this service; other good hearted people do the same. This is found all over Canada. If we abandon the rights of CAP, we also abandon these people creating a new category of poor. Because of this action we will have many more program disparities than we have now.
I have met several people since budget day. These people have the poor at heart. They are those who work on skid row, those who teach in the inner schools, those who deal with people with disabilities. I thank these people for their assistance to me over this month. They really hope that when the minister of human resources meets with his provincial counterparts they will find a consensus and will keep the five rights.